Category 'Compositing'

Dr Seuss has a story about a stalky pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them that I found deliciously frightening as a kid despite the main dude and the pants hugging it out at the end. So it seemed “fitting” to celebrate Halloween with a technique to create your own clothes with nobody inside (or maybe the person’s just invisible – who knows – either way it’s creepy).  

How to photograph the clothes for an invisible person

Creating an invisible person is just a combination of masking and compositing, both of which I’ve covered in previous tutorials but here’s some tips for shooting your outfit that will make the Photoshop process easier.
  1. Stick your camera on a tripod and grab your remote. Even if you’re shooting someone else I still recommend a tripod and remote so you can help your model with their outfit as you’re shooting.
  1. Lock down the focus and exposure on your model.
  1. If you want to keep the background you’re shooting against remember to take a blank shot of the background. Skip this step if you plan on cutting your character out and placing them on a new background as I did. If you’re using a new background analyse this scene first so you know what angle you need to shoot your subject from and how they should be lit.
  1. Get your model to pose. For my photo this week I started with some static poses but then I began to spin around as I clicked the shutter which gave movement to the outfit and made the poses more dynamic. If you’re trying to make your outfit look as if it’s alive giving it some movement will certainly help sell your effect. Just be sure that your shutter speed allows you to adequately capture the movement and your aperture is narrow enough to still allow focus if your subject is moving around. Also use a wider frame to allow an area for your subject to move in. (I ended up having to move my camera farther back from my subject.)
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2604,2603"]  
  1. When you’re shooting make sure that the parts of your model’s body that you’ll be masking out are not covering any portion of their clothes. So if they have long hair, make them tie it up and ensure their hands aren’t over their sleeves, etc. If you want to pose the clothes in a way that requires you to shoot with body parts obscuring the outfit (like hands folded over the chest) make sure to shoot the outfit both with and without the body part across it (so photograph the chest without the folded arms and then with the folded arms) so that when you remove the body part in Photoshop you can still see through to the clothes below.
[caption id="attachment_2605" align="aligncenter" width="200"]My final pose with hands, hair and legs not covering the clothes. My final pose with hands, hair and legs not covering the clothes.[/caption]  
  1. For the most realistic effect you now need to photograph the holes of the clothes without the body parts in them. Take my neck hole for example, I could have masked out my head and left only the front part of the collar. But for realism I photographed the back part of the collar too because that’s what you’d actually see in a headless dress. So either have your model pull their hands inside their sleeves and photograph the empty hole positioned similarly to how it was in your main pose, or have them remove the outfit and hold the neck hole up so you can photograph the back.
[gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="2607,2606,2608"]  

How to edit the clothes for an invisible person

  1. Set up your Photoshop document so that the background is the bottom layer, the holes are your middle layers, and your main pose is the top layer.
  1. Add a white mask to the top 'pose' layer and carefully paint with a hard black brush to remove any areas of skin. Or you can use your preferred selection tool to select the area you don’t want and Edit>Fill that area of the mask with black. I personally used the pen tool to create a path, loaded that path as a selection, feathered it by one pixel and then filled the selection with black.
[caption id="attachment_2610" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Mask out the background and the body parts you don't want Mask out the background and the body parts you don't want[/caption]  
  1. Next you’ll want to work on your holes by masking out everything but the hole (I just add a white layer mask and roughly paint black to remove whatever I don’t need), then using the move tool (V) and the arrow keys, line up the hole with the main image. Use Ctrl/Cmd T if you need to make the holes smaller or larger to fit. Then you can carefully refine the mask on the hole’s layers until they look perfect.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2612,2611"]  
  1. Clip a curves adjustment layer to the holes layers and change the brightness and colour to match the main image if necessary. Though since you shot everything at the same time they should ideally match without extra work.
  1. If need be, go back to the mask on your main pose layer and use a soft brush to blend the garment so the front and back holes match up seamlessly.
  1. If you wanted a pose where the body parts obscured the outfit, once you have masked out the body parts you will have gaps in your image. Drag that blank shot you took of the outfit into your main document and place it above the background. Blend it in using steps 3-6 above.
  1. If you find that body parts obscured your clothes when you DIDN’T want them to, create a new layer and use the clone stamp tool to Alt/Opt click a sample from another part of the outfit and then paint it over the problem area.
  1. Post the image to social media and freak all your friends out!

About ‘The Dark Side of the Tomb’

I knew I wanted to create a headless Halloween image with a jack-o'-lantern head so I photographed a bunch of poses against a plain wall in my living room. I then went looking for spooky backgrounds in my image library and even spent an afternoon at Toowong Cemetery collecting various shots. In the end I chose an image I took at the Glasgow Necropolis. I don’t recommend shooting the pose before finding the background but sometimes that’s just how things pan out. Glasgow Necropolis   I was going to create a Halloween pumpkin in Photoshop myself using this wonderful tutorial but I downloaded an image of a jack-o’lantern from Adobe Stock as a placeholder and ended up liking it so much I decided to purchase it. The fire is from Graphic Stock, the skeleton parts were photographed using my neighbour’s skeleton, the spider is from a Butterfly Park in Penang, Malaysia and the moon and clouds are images of the sky I shot at one time or another. I used layer styles and motion blurs to add glows and swishes. [gallery columns="4" link="file" size="medium" ids="2614,2616,2617,2615"]

Happy Halloween!

Seeing as Back to the Future day is now in our past and even I, a committed fan, am quite done hearing about it for the time being, I no longer want to dwell on why I made this tribute image. But I do want to talk about how I made it and what I learnt in the process. The easy solution would have been to Photoshop Michael J Fox out of the original image and replace him with myself but that'd be cheating! Instead I wanted to photograph myself and my Lego DeLorean and then recreate the scene using stock, which ended up being a fantastic exercise because I had to analyse every little piece of the image, figure out what stock I could use to replicate it and then draw on various Photoshop techniques for the effects. I wouldn't normally recommend copying someone else's image and releasing it to the world but this is an exercise I firmly believe every budding Photoshop artist should try to really hone those skillz. Back to the Future poster   I first had to figure out what I could wear to look like Marty. This ended up being a pair of my jeans, one of my dad's shirts, a red tunic with the sleeves and buttons removed in Photoshop (I had nothing else resembling a puffy red vest), a pair of 12 year old white sneakers that were literally crumbling whenever I walked, a denim jacket, a black Fitbit and my every day sunglasses (I didn't have mirrored ones). I used a stepladder to rest my foot on and I had a Speedlite set to full power facing up from about waist height to mimic the bright light from the car. I shot the image back to front and flipped it because I don't like the left side of my face. I also learnt that underlighting turns me into Seinfeld's girlfriend from 'The Strike' (the one who looked okay in certain light and bloody terrible in others) and all of these images will soon get deleted so I never have to see them again. To get the pose and camera angle right I had to keep running between the garage where I shot it and the living room where my computer was to reference the original image and it was hot in all those clothes and uncomfortable in those flaky shoes. Why I didn't just print out the image is a mystery for the ages. I shot the pose both with and without the tunic so I could easily remove the sleeves in Photoshop and still see the jacket below. Original pose   In Photoshop I smoothed the line of the jeans, replaced my watch hand (because I was holding the remote in it), replaced the shoe that got cut off, fixed the tunic and my messy hair, retouched my face and changed my eyes because they weren't open enough which explains why I look like I've had a botched facelift in the final image. Body fixes   I photographed the Lego DeLorean on my kitchen bench, trying to keep it in as much focus as possible, particularly in the area where I knew I would be standing. I had to shoot it down low to get the angle right and my mum shone a torch on the inside of the car where the bright light would be coming from. I then liquified the front of the car in Photoshop to make it look like its melting. Lego DeLorean   To create the scene I bought an image of a road from Adobe Stock because none of my pictures of roads had the right angle. Despite actually buying the image (I promise!) I somehow ended up with the low res preview version in the final image - oops! Road from Adobe Stock   I used my own photo of dark blue clouds for the sky and then overlaid a bunch of other cloud photos to get the billowing smoke effect. The pink and orange sky came from a sunrise photo I took in Edinburgh. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2580,2581"]   The light rays came from a band photo I took of the Presets, which was duplicated over and over and moved to match the ray positions. I used this image of a streetlight for the lights and a Graphic Stock image of a flare for the light itself which was added with the 'Lighten' blend mode. The mountain was shot out of a car window in Malaysia which I then blurred heaps so the trees weren't so detailed. [gallery columns="4" link="file" size="medium" ids="2585,2584,2582,2583"]   The fire is made up of about 6 different stock images purchased from Graphic Stock and Adobe Stock that I also blurred a bunch. I added a noise layer over the background and the car to get the really grainy look of the original. Finally I added a yellow outer glow around my body, drew in the shadows and bright light, and then toned the colour and lighting using about 50 different adjustment layers. Fire from Adobe Stock   The funny thing is there's a lot wrong with the original image - why the weird blue spot over the car on the left? why is there a bright white square on the road bottom right? why is Marty brightest on his right side when the light is coming from the rays on the left and the fire below? why are the shadows on his face and arms really red? why did they make the DeLorean look like it was melting? why are the fire tracks a weird angle and shape? Anyway! It was not up to me to wonder why, but how. And hopefully my image is more of an 'homage' than an insult to the world's greatest film franchise. :)   [gallery columns="2" size="large" link="file" ids="2575,2587"]

We’re all aware that celebrities and models are retouched to within an inch of their lives but until I started using Photoshop I didn’t realise just how easy it is to entirely change someone’s features. Good retouching though is an art and a science and one that I’ve not yet mastered, but since I shoot primarily self-portraits I’d be crazy if I didn’t at least know how to pretty myself up a bit. Everyone’s method for retouching is slightly different but here’s the workflow that currently works for me:

  • A quick note on compositing and retouching before we get started. My image this week had fairly bad lighting. My neck has weird shadows and there is an eyelash shadow under my right eye. I could have retouched these areas but I thought it would be easier to find other photos from the shoot where these shadows were less of an issue and mask them over the problem areas in the main image. You can also try mirroring features as covered in last week's tutorial.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2515,2516"]  
  1. Make a copy of your background (Ctrl/Cmd J). If your portrait is made up of different layers as mine was, group the layers (Ctrl/Cmd G), make a copy of the group (Ctrl/Cmd J) and merge the layers together (Ctrl/Cmd E).
  1. Load your healing brush tool which we will use to fix blemishes and wrinkles just as you would with concealer. Hopefully you’ve used either this or the clone stamp tool before and are familiar with how they work, but if not, you need to sample a smooth area of skin that is a similar colour to your problem area by holding down Alt/Opt and clicking the clean spot. Then you paint over your problem spot. If the brush accidentally clones things you don’t want, just undo (Ctrl/Cmd Z) and try again. Paint over all your problem spots this way, remembering to resample often. Use discretion when removing scars and moles because they are part of someone’s appearance. Rename the layer you’ve been working on to ‘healing’.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2526,2525"]  
  1. Now for frequency separation! Duplicate your healing layer twice. Rename the layer directly above it ‘colour’ and the one above that ‘texture’. Turn off the eyeball next to the texture layer and apply a blur to the colour layer using Filter>Blur>Surface Blur. Adjust the sliders just enough so that the detail starts to smooth out and lose clarity.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2528,2529"]  
  1. Turn the texture layer back on and highlight it. Go to Image>Apply Image and in the layer drop down box choose the ‘Colour' layer. Apply the settings from the image below. What this does is analyse the two layers and subtracts out what is different - which is the texture - so you're left with a layer containing ONLY the texture from your image. When finished with the dialogue box change the blend mode of this layer to ‘linear light’.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2532,2531"]  
  1. Now for the part I struggle with the most - applying foundation and contouring. Skin generally has blotchy colours so we need to even out the transition between these colours but also be mindful of the areas where the face has contour and enhance these. For example, in this image I want to soften the gradation of dark to light on my cheek, add more highlights to the ridge of my nose to even out the bump, take the redness out of my chest and just generally make the skin look more even. SO, with the colour layer selected choose a soft brush (b) and change the brush’s opacity to 10%. Sample a skin tone colour you wish to paint with (Alt/Opt click) and then paint over the area of colour variation to even it out. Don’t go overboard though because you want to keep the face’s natural shape and not make it look like a flat surface. It took me much experimenting to get this right so take your time with it and resample often. If you’re really struggling I’ve seen another method for this which is to lasso areas of skin, feather the selection A LOT and then add a small Gaussian Blur to smooth out the colour differences. The beauty of doing this technique on the colour layer is that because we have a texture layer, any changes you make to the colour layer only affect the colours and leave the textures intact.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2538,2537"]  
  1. Add a curves layer and create a very soft S curve to put a little contrast into the skin and even out the skin tones further.
[caption id="attachment_2539" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Curves adjustment layer Curves adjustment layer[/caption]  
  1. If you’re noticing that the texture of the skin is still too pronounced (for example, if your subject has quite large pores) you can paint with the blur tool on a low setting to blur these areas a little more. Zoom right in while you do this to ensure that the blur isn’t too obvious.
  1. Decide if you need to reshape any of your subject’s features and if so head to Filter>Liquify. The main tools to use here are the ‘Forward Warp’ tool which allows you to very gently push and pull features around (good for things like minimising waist lines or smoothing flyaway hair). The bigger the brush size the broader (and more convincing) the change. The ‘Pucker’ tool makes things smaller so with a brush just big enough to cover the area you wish to reduce, tap a couple of times until you’re happy. I use this on my nose. The ‘Bloat’ tool does the opposite to the ‘Pucker’ tool and is good for areas like lips. You can use the undo shortcut in this dialogue box at any time if you go too far. I'm sure there are other useful Liquify tools but I've never used them. Press OK when you’re done.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2527,2522"]  
  1. Make two new layers and label them ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’. Set the blend mode for both to overlay. Load a soft brush tool with white and change its opacity to 10%. Paint over any areas of light to make them even lighter. Areas to concentrate on are: the bridge of the nose, under the eyes and the top of the cheeks, the eyeballs and iris and the middle of the lips.
  1. On the burn layer change the brush to black and paint over dark areas to make them darker. Concentrate on the cheekbones, the sides of the nose, eyelashes and brows, pupils, on the neck under the chin and around the hairline.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2541,2540"]   The point of dodging and burning is to further contour the face and add contrast and sharpness. It’s similar to the contouring technique used by makeup artists because it flatters and enhances facial features. In this example photo I’ve used this technique to enhance my shoulder bones, painting black on dark areas and white on light areas to make them more pronounced. If you feel your dodge and burn is making your image look cartoonish lower the opacity of your layers a touch.
  1. If you wish to add makeup to your subject add a new layer and change the blend mode to colour. Select a colour and paint over the lips, the eyes or the cheeks. Reduce opacity if needed or add a hue/saturation layer to change the colour and intensity.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2543,2542"]  
  1. If you didn’t capture any catch lights in the subject’s eyes you can add your own with a small, medium hardness, white brush. Just dot in a spot of light on each pupil. Heal any blood vessels on the eyeballs using the healing brush. You can then enhance brows and lashes by drawing in more hair with a very small hard brush if you need. And you’re done!
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2545,2544"]   [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2554,2553"]  

 About 'Gaia'

I had two goals for this week’s image: to try and recreate the look Paul Apal’kin uses in his portraits, and to create a scene similar to a print I bought a few year’s back off Etsy by TheNebulousKingdom. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2547,2546"]   I failed at both goals. I did a very rough mock up of Paul’s technique in Lightroom but when adding the animals I discovered that my stock were all shot at different angles in different light and I couldn’t work them into my hair successfully. Eventually I just started throwing images into Photoshop to see if something would stick. I hate this period of experimentation but I love it when an image begins to take shape. In this case I loaded a photo I shot out of the window of a moving train window and I liked the way the mountains followed the shape of her hair. So I started to bring in more shots from the same train journey, building up a mountainous scene and sprinkling some animals throughout for interest. The composited animals are way too large for the scene but when an image is this fanciful you tend to get away with a bit more thankfully! [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2548,2550,2552,2549,2551"]

One of the fundamental design principles in art theory is ‘balance’ which means that an artwork is more pleasing if its elements are arranged equally. Symmetry is one method of achieving balance and occurs when half of something is mirrored to create a whole, much like a face. So I want to show you how to mirror an image and talk about why you should consider it in your workflow. Mirroring an image is one of the easiest things you can do in Photoshop and it’s an incredibly effective and striking technique for a few reasons, which I’ve illustrated below using photos I took in Malaysia:

It directs the eye

If the elements in your main photo are anything but straight, mirroring the photo creates an interesting v shape where the photos meet, which is perfect for leading the eye to the centre and works well if you want to composite someone into the scene (just imagine someone standing at the juncture of this pier). The eye is also repelled by sameness so rather than the eye bouncing around the image it’s first drawn to the centre before travelling around the rest of the scene. Just be mindful when creating your mirror image that the two sides line up exactly (this image is a poor example). [caption id="attachment_2454" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Malaysian Clan Jetties mirror image Clan Jetty, Penang, Malaysia[/caption]  

It’s interesting

Without really trying, mirroring an image immediately makes a scene interesting because it creates something unusual that we don’t see much in everyday life. This photo was taken with a wide angle lens which are known to make buildings lean, however the leaning buildings become really interesting in a mirrored scene. [caption id="attachment_2455" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia[/caption]   I can imagine a multiplicity scene taking place here with the same person peeking out of different alcoves. Here’s another. This is a fairly dull picture of a staircase that I hoped to use in a composite someday. Now, if this was the venue of a wedding I could pop my camera on a tripod and photograph the bride posing on the stairs looking to the centre, then the groom in the same position. Then I could flip his photo and suddenly you have this unique image of the bride and groom gazing at each other in a visually interesting scene. [caption id="attachment_2456" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang[/caption]  

It helps stimulate ideas

I shot this photo at a tea plantation. The light in the scene is diffuse and moody but really there’s not a lot happening of interest. If I flip it one way all of a sudden it looks like there’s a staircase in the middle and the clouds form the shape of a Chinese dragon face so I could create some kind of deity descending the stairs. [caption id="attachment_2457" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Boh Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia Boh Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia[/caption]   When I flip it the other way the scene curving around the ground makes it look like a stage. I can imagine some kind of ritual being performed here while people watch on from the surrounding hills that resemble theatre seats. I usually have to work pretty hard for my ideas but these two popped straight into my head based on the shapes that the mirroring created.  

It helps fix faults in an image

I photographed this bridge on the weekend in Toowoomba (not Malaysia) during their annual flower festival. This Japanese garden was BUSY and I could have waited all day and not got a clear photo of this bridge. But as long as I have ONE SIDE clear, I can just flip it and voila, all the people are gone. Then I could just cut it out and composite it into another scene if I wanted. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2460,2459"]     Or, if I take a photo of someone who has partially blinked, or has a weird reflection in one of their glasses lenses, I can load that photo into Photoshop, create a new layer and use the clone stamp to make a copy of their good eye onto the new layer. Then I just flip that layer and move it into place over the bad eye, masking out any bits that don’t fit and then I have two great eyes. [caption id="attachment_2461" align="aligncenter" width="300"]My right eye looked a little cross-eyed so I cloned my left eye and moved it over my right My right eye looked a little cross-eyed so I cloned my left eye, flipped it and moved it over my right[/caption]  

It can make a prop or scene look bigger than it was

I have been collecting fake flowers for YEARS so I could one day create this image. Despite that I still didn’t have quite enough to cover the floor all around my head without leaving gaps. BUT, I knew that by bunching them up on one side I could mirror them to make the floor look full. Alternatively I could have changed the arrangement of the flowers for the second shot so that the two sides would look different when mirrored. Flowers for portrait   And of course, last of all mirroring an image creates that all important balance.  

How to mirror an image in Photoshop

I’ve been trying to think of ways to do this without Photoshop but I don’t think it’s possible, so please leave a comment if you know how.
  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  1. Duplicate it into a new layer with Ctrl/Cmd J. If you only want to mirror a portion of the image select this area first.
  1. Go to Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal.
  1. Press c to activate your crop tool and drag the edge of the image outwards to add roughly enough canvas space to fit the flipped image. Press the tick when you're done.
[caption id="attachment_2463" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Resize your canvas Resize your canvas[/caption]  
  1. Press v to load the move tool and hold down shift as you drag the second image into place (shift stops it moving up and down).
[caption id="attachment_2464" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Move your mirror image into place Move your mirror image into place[/caption]  
  1. Zoom right in to check that the images line up exactly (you will stop seeing a definite line between them). With the v tool still loaded you can use your arrow keys to nudge the photo exactly into place.
[caption id="attachment_2465" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The seam line disappears when lined up exactly The seam line disappears when lined up exactly[/caption]  
  1. Choose your crop tool again and drag the crop back to the sides of your image.
  1. If there are parts of your image you don’t want mirrored (ie my face looked weird mirrored so I wanted to keep my original face while still mirroring all the flowers) add a layer mask and paint black on the areas you don’t want mirrored so the underlying layer shows through.
[caption id="attachment_2466" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Hey good lookin. Hey good lookin.[/caption]  

About ‘Deer Petal’

Deer Petal was shot in my living room right under a floor to ceiling window. I arranged the flowers on one side of a white sheet and laid amongst them. In terms of colour and light the final image is almost straight out of camera because that’s just how amazing window light is. I had to shoot the image with a tripod that lets you tip the camera parallel to the ground and away from the legs so they weren’t in shot (I meant to take a set up photo but I always forget *sigh*). [caption id="attachment_2467" align="aligncenter" width="225"]A crappy iPhone pic I took as I was packing up A crappy iPhone pic I took as I was packing up[/caption]   I moved some of the flowers around in between shots so I had some variety later on when ensuring the scene was completely full of flowers. I mirrored the image but as previously mentioned my face looked strange so I kept my original face. However my face is pretty wonky so I did mirror my eyeball and my lips and I had to do some liquify work on my nose to reshape it. I have quite obviously retouched my skin to make it look smoother. I own one antler which I shot in the same light but thanks to mirroring I now have two! I included the antlers purely to give the scene a little magic. :) Antler  

When I photographed last week's shadow image I also shot a few other concepts; the tree girl being one of them. She sat open on my computer for a week, with her tree arms on a plain background, and I kept staring at her thinking there was nothing I could do to make her interesting. Tree girl base shot   I looked through my Lightroom catalogue at photos of potential locations but nothing felt right so I decided to build a scene from scratch. I started with grass because where else would a tree girl be? Grass   This is the exact same field I used in my shoot two weeks ago, it's just that the flowers are a bit further up. Then I added a blue solid color layer and used the gradient tool to draw in a sky. I added a flower texture (from Graphic Stock) and some clouds to give the 'sky' depth. Simple steps that took no longer than an hour (mostly to find textures) but straight away the image came to life. Flower texture   Her cherry blossom arm was photographed during the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers at the botanical gardens. Her bare branch arm was photographed at a beach somewhere (I forget which one.) Branches for tree girl   I used curves and solid color layers set to 'soft light' to tone her. Some of my past photos have been overly complicated so I've been experimenting lately with creating simpler images. What do you think of this new direction?  

Shadows can make or break a composite. And while they’re easy to create, unless you’ve got a solid grasp of physics they’re hard to get right, which is why when someone is trying to figure out if your photo is a composite the shadows are usually the first thing they look at it. But since shadows are confusing for everyone, as long as you follow some basic principles you can usually fake them fairly successfully. The properties of shadows that most compositers use are:

  • Your shadow should fall in the opposite direction to your light source with the subject directly between the two. You should be able to draw a straight line between them. Light bounces off surfaces though, particularly bright ones, so keep this in mind when plotting the direction of your shadow because there may be light sources you haven’t considered.
  • The density of your shadow is dependent on the brightness of your light. Very bright light causes very dark shadows.
  • Shadows are darkest where they make contact with the object. This contact point also contains a little of the object’s colour.
  • Shadows become less dense as they travel away from the subject, so they become lighter and less defined.
  • The height of the light source dictates how long or short your shadow should be. Low is long, high is short.
  • If you don’t include shadows where your object meets a surface (even if they’re in diffuse light) they’ll look like they’re floating. Adding a simple contact shadow can make a world of difference.
BUT in reality shadows aren’t that simple. And here’s some examples I took with my iPhone to prove it. Ball shadow This is my dog’s squeaky ball in a ray of light. It’s actually LIGHTEST closest to the object because the ball is translucent and letting some light through. The shadow is long because the sun is low, and a little blurry at the farthest point from the object. Birdcage shadow The second is a bird cage I have hanging in my room. The light source is behind, to the right, and slightly above the cage which you can tell by the direction the shadow is falling. However there are TWO shadows because my lamp contains two light bulbs pointing in different directions. The shadows are WIDER than the objects because of the angle the light is hitting them. But because you can’t see the light source, if this were a composite you wouldn’t need to create the double or wide shadow because no one would ever know. So as long as you follow the basic principles of shadows no one can really prove you wrong. Let’s work through an example. Here’s a photo I took of myself in my garage. Don’t worry about my hands; they’ll show up in next week’s photo. I had an undiffused Speedlite on a light stand to my left so you can see that the left side of my body is brighter than the right. The floor and the wall are just photos of textures I’ve added in. Before adding a shadow the girl just looks like she’s floating. But by painting in a shadow using a soft brush and different opacities I can anchor her to the scene. So even though the angle of the floor is wrong and the shadow doesn’t match her shape it still looks like she belongs there. Painting in a shadow with the brush tool is the most basic technique but there’s more accurate ways to create shadows. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2418,2419"]  

How to create a shadow in Photoshop

First step – assess your light! Where is it coming from and what are its properties? This will help you plot how your shadow should look. Here’s two different methods to create shadows:   Method one:
  1. Make a selection of your subject/object. For accuracy’s sake I prefer to use the pen tool to make selections even though it takes the longest, but any method is fine.
  1. Press Ctrl/Cmd J to make a new layer from the selected area. Ctrl/Cmd click the thumbnail of this layer to load the selection again. Go to Edit>Fill and Use: Black. Press Ctrl/Cmd D to deselect the object.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2421,2420"]  
  1. Rename this new layer ‘Shadow’ and drag it below your main layer.
  1. Go to Edit>Transform>Distort and drag the middle top handle in the direction you want your shadow to fall. You can also play with the other handles to affect width and height. (Keep in mind that if your shadow is against a surface like in my image the shadow would change direction where it met that surface. You can see how this looks in my final image. This example photo isn’t accurate and is purely for demonstration purposes.)
[caption id="attachment_2422" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use handles to transform the shadow's shape Use handles to transform the shadow's shape[/caption]  
  1. Use the corner handles OR click inside and drag the selection to make sure the shadow lines up with the feet of your subject or the base of your object. Press the tick when you’re happy.
  1. Shadows are never perfectly sharp so go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and choose a radius to your liking.
[caption id="attachment_2423" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add Gaussian blur to make the edges less harsh Add Gaussian blur to make the edges less harsh[/caption]  
  1. I like my shadow to be blurrier the further away it is from the subject and the quickest way I’ve found to do this is to use quick mask mode. Select the gradient tool (g) and make sure the Linear Gradient is selected in the options bar. Press q to enter Quick Mask. Draw a line from the base of your subject to the top of the shadow. The red overlay will show you the area that is NOT selected. Try again with Reverse ticked if the selection is wrong. Press q again to exit Quick Mask.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2424,2425"]  
  1. Now go back to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and apply more of a blur to the top portion of your shadow. Ctrl/Cmd D to deselect.
[caption id="attachment_2426" align="aligncenter" width="298"]Blur the top half more Blur the top half more[/caption]  
  1. As well as making the farthest part of the shadow less sharp you should also make it less dark. So, add a layer mask to the shadow layer and select your gradient tool again (g). Click the gradient bar and select the third option ‘Black, White’. Press OK and change the opacity to 60%. Experiment by drawing in a gradient line. You will need to do this several times (the effect resets each time you draw) to get the fade going in the right direction and to get the right intensity (draw shorter and longer lines and vary where you draw the line from and to).
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2428,2427,2429"]   That’s method one done! The second method is best for giving just a little bit of shadow. For example, I have these vines climbing through a hole in my image but they didn’t feel like they belonged there so I added a little drop shadow to anchor them in place. [caption id="attachment_2432" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Composited vine Composited vine[/caption]   Method 2:
  1. Your object will need to be selected as we did in step 1 of the previous method. Add a layer mask to hide all the parts you don’t need. Ctrl/Cmd i inverts the mask if it has masked the wrong area.
  1. Double click on the far right hand side of the layer to bring up the Layer Style panel.
  1. Tick Drop Shadow and then click on the name to access its options. Play around with these to taste and click OK when done.
[caption id="attachment_2430" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Layer Style panel Layer Style panel[/caption]  
  1. Right click on the word ‘Drop Shadow’ in your layer. Choose ‘Create Layer’. This turns your layer style into its own layer which is super cool.
[caption id="attachment_2431" align="aligncenter" width="228"]Right click on Drop Shadow to create a new layer Right click on Drop Shadow to create a new layer[/caption]  
  1. Now you can add a mask to that layer and paint away any part of the drop shadow that you don’t like. You can also use this technique as an alternative to steps 1 and 2 in the first method.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2432,2433"]   And that’s it. Shadow achievement unlocked!   About ‘One Day I'll Fly Away’ Sometimes an image just works and you’re excited about it from the get go. This was not one of those images. I’ve spent two weeks massaging these pixels to within an inch of their lives and it still doesn’t make me happy - generally a sign that it’s time to put it aside and move on. Unfortunately you can’t win them all. But funnily enough I’m working on another concept from this shoot which I loved almost instantly. The image is composed of a shot of me photographed in my garage, a wall in Venice, a bird from Stradbroke Island, a Graphic Stock shot of clouds (which was just laziness as I have plenty of my own), and a vine from a garden in Melbourne. My photographs are very well travelled. I combined the shadows of the bird and the girl into one but I had to be careful using the blurring and fading techniques discussed in this tutorial so the bird didn’t disappear. I took plenty of shots of the girl lit by a Speedlite so I could see how her real shadow looked and replicate it in Photoshop but I ended up using a photo where the flash didn’t fire. I had to use Lighting Effects in Photoshop to light her side and back and make the harsh shadow believable.   [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2434,2438,2435,2436,2437"]   If you have any advice about shadows or wish to share a shadow photo of your own, please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear/see them! :)

The curse of the conceptual photographer is that you always want to include some kind of magical element in your photo even when it doesn’t necessarily need one. Knowing how to create a reflection is a good little bow to add to your quiver of tricks. It’s also useful when creating car or product shots for advertising purposes or for landscape photographers wanting to embellish a scene. You can add a reflection to most scenes but unless you’ve photographed your subject straight on you *may* have trouble with perspective so just keep that in mind.

How to create a reflection in Photoshop

  1. Duplicate your image layer (Ctrl/Cmd J).
  1. Next you’ll need to add space to the bottom of your canvas to put the reflection. There’s a few ways to do this but I prefer the lazy option which is to activate the crop tool (c) and drag the bottom and edges out to reveal the checkerboard. This doesn’t have to be exact because we can crop it back in later.
[caption id="attachment_2313" align="aligncenter" width="201"]Use your crop tool to make room for your reflection Use your crop tool to make room for your reflection[/caption]  
  1. Highlight the top copy of your image and go to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and then hold down shift and drag that layer into place below your main image. Recrop your image (c) by dragging the handles back to the sides.
[caption id="attachment_2314" align="aligncenter" width="201"]Drag the vertically flipped photo into place Drag the vertically flipped photo into place[/caption]  
  1. If you're using this method to reflect an object rather than an entire scene you can use a gradient on a layer mask to make the reflection gradually fade out. You can see what I mean in the image below. The layer marked in red shows the gradient applied to the mask.
[caption id="attachment_2315" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Gradient applied to reflection Gradient applied to reflection[/caption]  
  1. This step isn’t crucial but I wanted to distort my reflection a bit to give the illusion of water movement so, select the reflection layer and make it a smart object by going to Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. Then choose Filter>Distort>Wave and play around with the sliders to taste but you probably don’t want to add too much. Being a smart object you can go in and change the filter until you’re happy.
[caption id="attachment_2316" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The wave filter gives the water reflection some movement The wave filter gives the water reflection some movement[/caption]  
  1. Now we’ll add some ripples which gets a little tricky but builds on techniques I’ve covered in the last few weeks. I mostly followed along with this tutorial to get the following steps but I simplified a few things on the way. Create a new layer and Edit>Fill with white. Then choose Filter>Noise>Add Noise, set the amount to 70% and choose Gaussian and Monochromatic. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2319" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add noise Add noise[/caption]  
  1. Add a little blur to the noise with Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and choose 5 pixels as the radius.
[caption id="attachment_2320" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add Gaussian blur to noise layer Add Gaussian blur to noise layer[/caption]  
  1. Go to Image>Adjustments>Curves and drag in your sliders as shown to the ends of the histogram spike. This gives more contrast to the noise because while noise is great for these sorts of techniques it’s far too fine and dense without some adjusting.
[caption id="attachment_2321" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Curves give contrast to noise Curves give contrast to noise[/caption]  
  1. Now we need to visit the Filter Gallery which you can only access in 8 bit so if you’re working on a 16 bit image you’ll need to convert to 8 bit by going to Image>Mode>8 Bits/Channel.
  1. Choose Filter>Filter Gallery>Sketch>Bas Relief. Set both Details and Smoothness to 2. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2322" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Apply bas relief filter Apply bas relief filter[/caption]  
  1. Apply a motion blur with Filter>Blur>Motion Blur. Make sure the angle is 0 and the distance is 35.
[caption id="attachment_2323" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Add motion blur Add motion blur[/caption]  
  1. Press Ctrl/Cmd T to transform the size of the noise. Drag the top handle down to cover only the area of the reflection. Right click the image and choose Perspective and drag the bottom handles out to make the ripples larger towards the bottom. Press enter.
[caption id="attachment_2324" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use Edit>Transform to drag the water ripples into place Use Edit>Transform to drag the water ripples into place[/caption]  
  1. Right click on the noise layer in the layer’s palette, choose duplicate layer and in the dialogue box change Document to New. Press OK.
[caption id="attachment_2325" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Move your layer to a new document Move your layer to a new document[/caption]  
  1. To get rid of the empty space in the new document go to Image>Trim, select Transparent Pixels and hit OK. Save this document as a PSD.
[caption id="attachment_2326" align="aligncenter" width="284"]Trim transparent pixels Trim transparent pixels[/caption]  
  1. Back in your main document switch off the noise layer we were working with earlier. Highlight the reflection layer and go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Distort>Glass. You’ll see a little box on the far right where it says ‘Texture’. Click this, choose ‘Load Texture’ and then choose the PSD we saved in the last step. Play around with the Distort slider to give more or less of the effect. As you previously made this layer a smart object you can go back in and change the sliders if needed.
[caption id="attachment_2327" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Use glass filter to give ripple texture Use glass filter to give ripple texture[/caption]  
  1. A cool tip from the aforementioned tutorial is to turn back on the noise layer we created earlier. Change the blend mode to soft light and drop the opacity way down to give the water a glassy reflective look. I also clipped a levels layer to this layer and dulled the whites to make them less severe.
[caption id="attachment_2328" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Change blending mode of other noise layer to soft light Change blending mode of other noise layer to soft light[/caption]  
  1. The last step is optional but I studied a bunch of different images of reflections to see how they should look. I decided to desaturate the reflection a touch, add some bluish toning with a curves adjustment layer and applied some Gaussian blur. I made it slightly brighter and slightly less contrasty and I darkened the area where the water and land meet. Here’s a close up of the result.
[caption id="attachment_2329" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Close up of water seam Close up of water seam[/caption]   And that, dear readers, is how you make a watery reflection!  

About ‘The Return of the Sword’

Because I am a conceptual photographer and therefore cursed with needing to include a magical element in all my photos I decided to be a bit tricky and change my reflection slightly. The scene is composed of a photo I took at Palatine Hill in Rome and two pictures of me shot in my backyard. The sword is courtesy of FantasyStock on DeviantArt. I'm really taken with the idea of a normal person suddenly finding out they are special or chosen (as all the best characters are) and that's how the idea came about. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2332,2330,2331"]   I created the reflection of the background first and then, because the girl had been cut out from her background, I created her reflection separately. I copied the bottom of her dress exactly and then changed the top half to the girl holding the sword. (I used a stand-in wooden sword when posing which I changed to the stock sword in Photoshop). GIrl's reflection   After much colour toning I needed to draw the eye first to the top girl which I did by making her the sharpest and most saturated thing in the image. Then down to her reflection by making the sword glow and brightening the bottom of the image because the eye is drawn to light. I applied all the effects covered above to the water but I masked most of them off the reflected girl so she could still be clearly seen. But will she choose to take the sword?

Although this isn't a tutorial week I got a bit carried away with the underwater theme after last week's tutorial and wanted to try filling half a room with water which is how 'The Blue Girl' came about. I photographed myself against a blank wall in my living room with a floor to ceiling window diagonally to my left for light. Isn't window light beautiful? [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2296,2297"]   In Photoshop I duplicated photos of the blank wall and skewed them to make the wall look like a room. Room created in Photoshop   The water and water line came from this shot of otters (aw, otters!) that I shot at some zoo or other. Otters   The tears were eye drops applied by my assistant (Mum). The Blue Girl fake tears   The ship and the birds were from my own stock collection. The Blue Girl stock   The rain came from Jessica Drossin's 'Force of Nature' weather effects pack. Various textures were used to give the image a stormy feel. And that's how I became the saddest girl in the room!      

How long I’ve wanted to shoot underwater! When girls in pretty dresses are combined with the weightlessness of water the results are elegant and ethereal. But shooting underwater is costly as it requires expensive purpose-built camera housing (around $2k) or an underwater point and shoot, which is cheaper (around $500) but offers less control. You can hire equipment but I’ve heard too many horror stories and the one rental company I spoke to said they couldn’t afford the insurance. It’s also a very physically demanding experience for both the model and photographer. All this AND I’m the only person on my street without a pool (which I sadly discovered while browsing Google Earth). So I’d love to do an underwater shoot some day but for now my options are limited to Photoshop. Please keep in mind this is an advanced tutorial.

How to photograph a fake underwater photo

First, find a blank background to photograph your model against so it’s easy to cut them out in Photoshop. I set up a black sheet because I knew this would roughly match the colour of the water I’d be compositing myself into. Light underwater is unpredictable but it definitely won’t have bright sun spots so shoot your model in diffuse light. I shot in my backyard in a shaded area as the sun was going down. [caption id="attachment_2242" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Testing the camera looking mighty impressed Testing the camera looking mighty impressed[/caption]   Set your aperture narrow enough to have all of your model in focus (you can blur them later if need be) and choose a shutter speed that gives the tiniest amount of motion blur, but not too much or your person will be hard to cut out. (My settings were 1/160 sec at f/9, ISO 800.) Resist any temptation to wet your model unless part of them will be out of the water and then only wet the exposed part. For my pose I first started out by leaning back on a chair in the same way I would pose for a levitation photo but it wasn’t until I tried jumping and posing mid-air that I started to like the shots because the movement was similar to floating. I also separately shot hair and dress flicks that I didn’t end up using but I wanted to have the option available for compositing. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2244,2243"]   For the water you have a few options including creating it in post or using stock, but I wanted to photograph my own elements. I again set up a black backdrop so it would be easy to separate the bubbles using a blend mode, half-filled a vase with water making sure the vase’s surface wasn’t reflecting too much light and photographed the water line and then the bubbles as I poured more water into the vase. [caption id="attachment_2245" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Bubbles for underwater Bubbles[/caption]    

How to edit a fake underwater photo in Photoshop

Before getting started I studied many underwater photos so I could try and replicate the look in Photoshop. The elements I decided I needed were these:
  • Bubbles
  • A water line / top of the water
  • Light rays
  • A reflection of the girl
  • Shimmers of light on her clothes and skin
  • Blue toning and matted highlights
  • Textures to give depth to the water
The following process is an amalgamation of tips from this video, other underwater tutorials found online and my own experimentation in Photoshop.
  1. Create the background. To do this I found an underwater photo with colours that I liked and opened it into my main document. Hit g to activate the gradient tool and click on the gradient bar. In the Gradient Options select the first preset ‘Foregound to Background’ and then double click the left bottom tab (‘stop’) to bring up the colour picker. Alt/Opt click on a highlight colour in the sample photo to select it and press OK, then double click the right bottom tab and sample a shadow colour. Keep pressing OK until you exit the Gradient Editor then draw a vertical line downwards over your canvas so that the lighter colour is at the top. (Make sure the 'reverse' box isn't ticked if you find this isn't the case.)
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2249,2251,2247,2250"]  
  1. Next you’ll need to create the top of the water. You can do this using stock photos (for example, waves at a beach) by going to Edit>Transform>Distort and playing around with the perspective handles, but I’d found a tutorial on how to create water from scratch that I wanted to try.
To do this create a new layer and draw a rectangle with your marquee tool (m) about 2/3 the size of your main document. Press d so that your colour swatch is set to default colours and go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Press Ctrl/Cmd t to bring up your free transform handles and drag the edges of the box to the edges of your document. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2253,2254,2252"]   Now go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Artistic>Plastic Wrap (if the Filter Gallery is greyed out you may first need to change your image from 16 to 8 bit with Image>Mode and choose 8 Bits/Channel) and set your sliders to 14, 3 and 11. Click OK. Then go to Edit>Transform> Distort and pull your handles into place as shown. Change the blend mode to Linear Dodge. Add a mask to the layer and use a soft brush to remove the harsh edges. Add a curves adjustment layer above your water line layer and clip them together by pressing Alt/Opt and clicking between the two layers. Use curves to darken the layer to match your background. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2257,2258,2256,2255"]   Convert your water effect layer to a smart object (right click the layer in a blank area and choose 'Convert to Smart Object') and then go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects and add a small spotlight to a section of the water. Play with the sliders to get an effect you like and the handles of your light to shape it. Press OK when you're finished. It's sometimes hard to get an idea of what the final effect will look like until it's applied which is why it's a good idea to apply lighting effects as a smart filter so you can keep changing the effect until you like it. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2259,2260"]  
  1. At this point I made sure my subject was perfectly cut out and placed her above these effects.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2262,2261"]  
  1. Create rays of light by making a new layer and using your marquee tool to select the top half of the image. Press d to set your colour swatch to default and then go to Filter>Render>Clouds once again. Next go to Image>Adjustments>Threshold and use the default setting, press OK. Press Ctrl/Cmd D to get rid of the selection. Now go to Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. Take your amount to 100. Choose Zoom and Best and drag the centre point to the top of the box. Click OK. Press Ctrl/Cmd F a few times to repeat the effect. Change the blend mode to soft light and the opacity to about 50%. Use Ctrl/Cmd T and move your rays so they look like they’re coming from the spot light you created earlier. Add a mask and use a soft brush to paint out the rays wherever you don’t want them.
[gallery ids="2268,2264,2269,2267,2265,2266"]    
  1. I had no clue how to create the girl’s reflection so I created some tricks of my own. First I duplicated my subject layer and converted it to a Smart Object with Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. I then went to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and used Edit>Transform to move the reflection where I wanted it and dragged the top middle handle to make it quite squat. After playing around with all Photoshop’s filters I found I got the best result with Filter>Distort>Wave and played around with the sliders until I got a result I liked. Because I applied this as a Smart Filter I was able to apply and change the results as much as I liked.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2270,2272,2271"]  
  1. To create the shimmers of light I created a new layer and filled it with black. Then I went to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. I chose Gaussian and Monochromatic and set the amount to about 35%. Now I went to Filter>Pixelate>Crystallize and made the Cell Size 160. This is similar to how we created snow last tutorial. Now go to Filter>Stylize>Find Edges. Press Ctrl/Cmd i to invert the layer. Choose Filter>Distort>Ripple and make it about 300. Then Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and just apply a little to make the edges less severe. Change the blend mode to screen. Zoom right out of your document and pres Ctrl/Cmd T and make this layer larger. Clip this layer to the subject, change the opacity to 60% and mask it out where you don't want it.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2273,2276,2278,2277,2280,2279,2274,2281,2283"]  
  1. The bubbles were added using a screen blending mode and then I clipped a levels layer to the bubbles to get rid of any lingering background. You could also use a bubble brush to create the bubbles.
[caption id="attachment_2284" align="aligncenter" width="296"]Bubbles added Bubbles added[/caption]  
  1. I used a few curves layers clipped to the girl layer to introduce some bluey green toning and then darkened the bottom of her body. I also desaturated her skin tones and dragged the highlights down to dull them slightly. A good trick I learnt recently from Glyn Dewis is to make the opacity of your subject layer 95% so the background shows through ever so slightly and tones your subject to match the scene.
[caption id="attachment_2285" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Colour toning Colour toning[/caption]  
  1. Adding textures is optional but I thought the scene looked too flat without them. I added various bokeh textures and overall colour toning to give depth to the water.
[caption id="attachment_2286" align="aligncenter" width="297"]Final toning and textures Final toning and textures[/caption]   And we're done! It's definitely a lot of work but the more effort you put into it the more realistic your final result. And not a single camera was harmed.  

About ‘Rosewater’ and ‘I Tried to Drown my Sorrows’

The poses for both photos were photographed in my backyard wearing a $10 dress I found through a Facebook “garage sale”. Little known fact, I studied six different types of dance as a child and I finally got to use some of this training in my photos. Unfortunately my body is no longer primed for this kind of activity and my legs hurt for days. In Photoshop I was hoping to recreate the particular look used in this Adam Attoun photo. 'I Tried to Drown my Sorrows' started out with this in mind but by a happy accident when I opened a vase photo to use the bubbles I noticed how great the girl looked inside the glass, so this image took on a life of its own and was very quick to complete. To create 'Rosewater', I began by following along with the video tutorial posted earlier to see if I’d like the result which I did, so she ended up being in a bluey/green scene rather than black because the colours grew on me. I always planned to have flowers floating in the water so I shot some miniature roses in a vase and was most annoyed to discover that roses float so I had to poke them into the water with a gardening fork. Despite being miniature the roses still look way too big for the scene, ruining all my convincing underwater scene building but I like how they look and am happy with the final photo regardless. I Tried to Drown my Sorrows

The Exposing Illusions blog has always been an important part of my photography journey; so much so that I spent years researching and planning it before I even wrote a single word. Every one of my conceptual photos has been created to demonstrate the photography technique I am learning and teaching that week. But sometimes I just want to create photos without the constraints of the blog. And that’s what this week’s photo is. ‘In Bloom’ came about because I had an orange flower wall and a white dress. Nothing more. I just wanted to create a pretty picture that wasn’t driven by story. I’d planned to photograph it a year ago but the vine only flowers briefly in winter and by the time I went to shoot it the flowers had died. Being in my late thirties and unmarried I’m sure there’ll be those who’ll think this photo is a statement about my marital status but I love being single and much prefer it to an unfulfilling relationship. I’m just a character in this photo as I am in all my others. Point of interest … right behind this flower wall lives a dog called Panda who regularly hangs over the fence and barks at all who wander innocently by. I was very lucky this day that his owner had just came home so he was too distracted to bother with me. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2237,2236"]


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Back to the Future

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Tree Change

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How to create shadows in Photoshop.

Shadows can make or break a composite. And while they’re easy to create, unless you’ve got a solid grasp of physics they’re hard to get right, which is why when someone is trying to figure out if your photo is a composite the shadows are usually the first thing they look at it. But since […]


How to create a reflection in water with Photoshop.

The curse of the conceptual photographer is that you always want to include some kind of magical element in your photo even when it doesn’t necessarily need one. Knowing how to create a reflection is a good little bow to add to your quiver of tricks. It’s also useful when creating car or product shots […]


The Blue Girl

Although this isn’t a tutorial week I got a bit carried away with the underwater theme after last week’s tutorial and wanted to try filling half a room with water which is how ‘The Blue Girl’ came about. I photographed myself against a blank wall in my living room with a floor to ceiling window diagonally to my left for light. […]


How to fake an underwater photo with Photoshop

How long I’ve wanted to shoot underwater! When girls in pretty dresses are combined with the weightlessness of water the results are elegant and ethereal. But shooting underwater is costly as it requires expensive purpose-built camera housing (around $2k) or an underwater point and shoot, which is cheaper (around $500) but offers less control. You […]


The orange wall and the white dress

The Exposing Illusions blog has always been an important part of my photography journey; so much so that I spent years researching and planning it before I even wrote a single word. Every one of my conceptual photos has been created to demonstrate the photography technique I am learning and teaching that week. But sometimes […]